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A Boy And His Grandfather Visit Home 'On The Trapline'

Illustrations by Julie Flett / Tundra

A little boy and his Moshom — his grandfather — are traveling north. They're going to the grandfather's community, and his trapline — a place where Indigenous people live off the land, hunting, fishing, and trapping.

On The Trapline is written by David A. Robertson, who is a member of Norway House Cree Nation, and inspired by a trip the author took with his late father.

"Up until he was nine years old, he lived mostly on the land," Robertson says. "And about three years ago, he asked me to take him up to his trapline one last time. And so we went together the following year and spent the day on the land together. And it was this homecoming. It was this feeling that we both belonged there together."

/ Tundra

At the trapline, Moshom shows the little boy where he used to live — the place where the family pitched their tent, where he chopped wood, the bush where he picked saskatoon berries, and the shore where he set traps for muskrats.

"I think it's important that people recognize that it's still a way of life to a lot of indigenous people," Roberston says. "And it's an important and vibrant way of life."

Robertson says he wrote On The Trapline to be a gentle book, one that helps to dispel stereotypes and myths about life in an Indigenous community, and to educate readers.

To that end, Robertson includes Swampy Cree words throughout the story — like Moshom for grandfather.

And on the page where Moshom tells the little boy about his chores, the reader learns that the word for "go outside" is wanawī.

/ Illustrations by Julie Flett / Tundra
Illustrations by Julie Flett / Tundra

On The Trapline is illustrated by Julie Flett, who is Swampy Cree and Red River Métis. Robertson and Flett have worked together before, on their 2016 picture book When We Were Alone.

And Flett was the only illustrator Robertson considered for this story.

"When I was writing it, I was picturing Julia's work and it helped inform, I think, the beauty of the story," Robertson says. "I didn't have a backup plan."

For both Robertson and Flett, On The Trapline became all the more meaningful because it was the last project that their fathers would ever see.

"Whenever I'm making a book, I always talk to my dad whenever I have a question about the land or anything that I might have not experienced directly," Flett says. "He's been a guide and a compass ... And while I was working on this project, my dad's health was declining, but he was still able to talk about some of his experience. And, yeah, he passed just before it was finished. "

Robertson was able to read the story to his father shortly before he died.

"He loved it," Robertson says.

Robertson and Flett say they hope this story honors their families, and their dads.

"I think there could have been a tendency for grief to creep into the story. And it didn't," Robertson says. "It is a book that isn't about that loss, but it's about that gift that our fathers gave us. It's a celebration of life that honors two really incredible people."

Samantha Balaban and Melissa Gray produced and edited this interview for broadcast.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Samantha Balaban is a producer at Weekend Edition.